MACHiNENOiSY's plaything conjures a dreamlike, low-tech world


A MACHiNENOiSY production. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Thursday, June 16. Continues until June 18, and from June 23 to 25

Delia Brett’s ambitious new work plays out like a child’s delirious dream, a surreal vision of puppets and ray guns, towering figures in huge layer-cake skirts, and spattering blood. That last, recurring image of the production is a nod to the fact that kids’ play often has a sinister side—that mock deaths and pretend violence come out almost innately.

Sitting in the theatre, you feel immersed in a piece of feverishly moving visual art, with Brett’s choreography blending with Christopher J Kelly’s ominous electro-soundscape, Tamara Unroe’s shadow puppetry, Jay White’s projected animations and illustrations, and Jordan Bent’s design. This is not all impersonal, digitally generated dabbling, though: there’s a cool, handmade, low-tech quality to the multimedia aspects of plaything, from the use of overhead projectors to simple shadows and stick marionettes. The end result is theatrical dance that taps all your senses, with scene after scene a new world of warped imagination.

Take the opening sequence, which finds Brett writhing first behind a back-lit screen and then in front of us in a black body suit that covers every inch of her—even her entire head and face. Eventually, the legs and part of the back of the suit are zipped off (she wears a stark white body suit underneath) and the black fabric legs become a sort of rod puppet for artist Tamara Unroe, who inserts long sticks into them to manipulate them from behind Brett.

There are other striking moments as well. In one scene worthy of Lewis Carroll, Brett stands tall on a ladder, under a ridiculously long, hooped white dress, while her young son Beckett’s feet jut out beneath the skirt; projected birds dive and dart over her, then bloodlike squiggles of projected red paint cover her. Later, Beckett crawls out from under the dress, inching across the floor while trailing white fabric.

At another point, Brett slides under a screen that sizzles with static, her feet and legs sticking out the front. Then the shadow of her body interacts with shadow puppets, joining dot-to-dot drawings, sprouting four arms to shoot at animated enemies, and getting scooped up in the tentacle of an alien.

The references are plentiful, from Atari to manga, and from Bunraku to Bionicles. You’ll also think of the overhead-projected live animation of artists like Shary Boyle and the black-hooded shadow figures of choreographers like Fabrice Ramalingom and Crystal Pite.

For her part, Brett is charismatic enough to project emotion even when she’s appearing in silhouette, back-lit behind a screen, as she does for much of this production—check out a sequence where she shapes and ponders a pulsating mass of animated scribbles. Chameleonlike, she can transform into a robotic toy with plastic spikes jutting out of her back and hands, or strip naked into a vulnerable soul curling fetally on the floor. As the black, hooded figure, she’s part machine, part animal, freezing to swing a bent, disembodied leg like a pendulum or crawling like a feral cat.

Still, it’s a testament to the effectiveness of this show that it’s not a one-person achievement, but a true collaboration—one that’s worth checking out if you want to see dance that really delivers in the multimedia realm. There are only a few moments when all these elements don’t quite mesh, but that’s going to happen when you’re willing to take risks. And there are enough striking moments to make this much more than child’s play.

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